When I think about my home country of West Papua, I think about the people there that are still suffering, particularly the West Papuan activists who are being targeted by Indonesian Authorities. I remember the many political prisoners who are still being held in prisons in and around West Papua.

One such political prisoner, Filep Karma, is listed as one of Amnesty International’s prisoners of consciousness, and the organization has joined many of us West Papuans in asking for his immediate release. Just a few days ago I was able to join an Amnesty sponsored protest for Filep in Washington DC and it reminded me of my people’s struggle back in West Papua.

I remember that day in December 2004, we were in Jayapura, the capital city of West Papua. I was at Cenderawasih University with Filep Karma, Jusak Pakage, Edison Waromi and Jefry Pagawak. We were there preparing to raise the Morning Star flag, a representation of West Papua’s national identity, over Trikora Field which is a traditional part of our December 1 memorial. At 11:30pm that evening, the Indonesian army began to block the roads with tanks, trucks, and police cars; fifty soldiers actually slept on the field so as to not miss the ceremony and by 9am the next morning Trikora Field looked like a war zone. Filep Karma and Jusak Pakage led the West Papuan people singing and praying to the flag ceremony. In response, some of the Indonesian troops opened fire while others violently beat any West Papuan protestor. Karma and Pakage tried to negotiate with the army but were instead forced into a police car and taken away. Both men were charged with “subversion” and sentences to 10 and 15 years in prison.

Since the recent student demonstrations in Jayapura, Serui, Manokwari, Wamena, Timika, Nabire, Fak Fak, Sorong and elsewhere, I have been told that the military agents are increasing their campus activity in West Papua. It is not hard to imagine the impact that tens of thousands of Indonesian troops can have on the daily lives of the West Papuan people, particularly the students. This new action from the Indonesian military raises a question for me; why would Indonesia send so many troops to West Papua who is mobilized for military operations? Is this to intimidate the West Papuan people, to attack our freedom of speech and prevent us from peacefully gathering in the land of our ancestors to debate and challenge the domination of our land and freedom?

As a former political prisoner, I am very thankful for my freedom but cannot forget the condition of my West Papuan brothers and sisters still living under Indonesian rule. The systematic oppression, terror, intimidation, rape, kidnapping, incarceration, poisoning and murder of indigenous Melanesians in West Papua has not changed since I fled the country in 2005. It is time to support the West Papuan people in their struggle for human rights and political independence. Please help us in supporting Amnesty International’s petition for the release of West Papuan political prisoner, Filep Karma, and join us in supporting West Papua’s struggle for freedom.

Herman Wainggai